March 19, 2001, 1:21 PM — An Internet security firm has posted a new study ranking Web sites that make the most frequent use of "Web beacons." These hidden little routines, also called "Web bugs," let sites know where you've already been on the Web.
According to Security Space's Web Bug Traffic Count Report, the 10 biggest users, ranked by traffic, are the following:
1. Doubleclick.net, ad agency
2. Akamai.net, streaming media network
3. LinkExchange.com, Microsoft affiliates
4. Bfast.com, affiliate program
5. Demon.co.uk, streaming media ISP
6. Extreme-dm.com, Web stat software
7. HitBox.com, Web stat software
8. LinkSynergy.com, e-commerce links
9. Akamaitech.net, streaming media network
10. Commission-Junction.com, affiliate program
Web beacons are small graphics, usually 1-by-1 pixels and invisible, which are placed on Web pages or in e-mail messages. They aren't a major security problem, but when combined with cookies can be used to collect personal information on individuals' surfing habits.
"The big issue here is that some uses are benign and some are more insidious," says Richard Smith, CTO of the Privacy Foundation, a watchdog group. "The most insidious would be police use."
Tom Reinke, director of technology for Security Space, says companies can configure their firewalls to block behavioral data from flowing to servers that are ranked in his firm's traffic report. Smith says individuals would find it easier to install a selective cookie blocker, such as IDcide's Privacy Companion.
The Web Bug Traffic Count Report is at http://www.securityspace.com/newsletter/#a984080560. (Jump to the summary, then click the "Web Bug Traffic Count Report" button at the bottom of that page.)
Privacy Foundation FAQ on Web Bugs is at http://www.privacyfoundation.org/education/webbug.html.
IDcide's Privacy Companion Cookie Blocker is at http://www.idcide.com/pages/per_intro.htm.
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